Reconciliation will take action, artist Helen Stacey says

An art exhibition opening at Tailem Bend has drawn attention to the relationship between Indigenous and white Australians.

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Bea and Summer Sumner, Robert Wuldi, Betty Sumner, Michael and Rita Lindsay and Helen Stacey gather at an exhibition opening at the Coorong Gallery during National Reconciliation Week. Photo: Peri Strathearn.

There’s plenty still to do if Aboriginal and white Australians are ever going to be reconciled, a prominent Murraylands artist says.

Helen Stacey spoke at the opening of the exhibition More than a Word at Tailem Bend on Friday, at the end of National Reconciliation Week.

She recalled waves of progress that had been made during the 1990s: the Royal Commission into Aboriginal deaths in custody, the Mabo native title decision, Paul Keating’s Redfern address, acknowledgement of the Stolen Generation and the first National Sorry Day in 1998.

That momentum had been lost during the 2000s, she said, as the nation turned its attention towards the unjust treatment of refugees and away from the unjust treatment of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

Only in the past four years, with the Uluru Statement from the Heart and Black Lives Matter movement, had campaigners become re-energised.

“There is still much to do,” she said.

“(That includes) implementing the Uluru Statement from the Heart, that includes a voice to Parliament and addresses deaths in custody; and around our districts we may find there may be sites of shame that can become sites of healing.

“Reconciliation is more than a word – it does take action.”

Ngarrindjeri artist Betty Sumner suggested honesty was needed if the wrongs of the past were to be made right.

She took issue even with the word “reconciliation”, she said – it implied Europeans and Aboriginal Australians had been friends at some point in the past, when most early settlers had shown nothing but hostility.

The Coorong council would respond to the need for action in the next 12 months with a reconciliation action plan, Mayor Paul Simmons said.

“We hope we can deliver a framework that will advance reconciliation, and provide strong and clear initiatives that support that plan,” he said.

Ngarrindjeri dancers Rita and Michael Lindsay offered a welcome to country during the exhibition opening, and performed three dances.

The exhibition – which also features works by Bluey Roberts, Robert Wuldi, Rosslyn Richards, Alan Sumner and Summer Sumner – will remain on show until NAIDOC Week in July.